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I Gave Up Dairy for a Year and It Changed My Life

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Last year when I went home for the holidays, I asked my mom if Santa could bring me some TUMS. She raised an eyebrow. I explained that lately, after each meal, I was taking a TUMS. Or two. Maybe three, tops.

My mom is a yogi and a health nut. Naturally, she suggested that I change my diet. I would feel better and no longer need the antacids if I ate the right foods, she told me.

I'll admit it—my diet wasn't perfect. While I exercised regularly, limited my drinking, and had a mostly balanced diet of veggies and meat, I also splurged—a lot. I'd always got cheese. At a Mexican restaurant, I'd never say no to tons of chips, margs, and queso dip. I thought my exercise routine would take care of the dairy slip-ups—but unfortunately, that wasn't working.

Not only was I bloated, lethargic, and acne-prone, I had also gained nearly 10 pounds that year—so much weight that my 5'4" frame was holding almost 165 pounds. I was uncomfortable in most everything I wore aside from a pair of leggings.

So with the encouragement of my roommate, who also wanted to improve her overall health, I took my mom's advice. We decided to do Whole30, a diet that calls for you to cut out dairy, booze, refined or processed sugars, legumes, and gluten for 30 days, then gradually add those foods back into your diet and see how your body responds. (Find out how another woman Lost Weight on the Whole 30 Diet—Without Cheating!)

For the most part, everything went smoothly. After 30 days, I added wine back in and I was totally fine. Three days later, I ordered sushi (you can't have rice on Whole30) for dinner and was fine then too. It wasn't until that Friday when I had a protein shake at work that I noticed a serious change. While I thought the drink was made with almond milk, it actually had skim milk in it. And after drinking the shake, I vomited.

It was that obvious—and instant.

When I told my mom about my throwing up incident, she said, "Oh yeah, you had to have soy formula as a baby, you didn't react well to lactose." (Wish she would have told me sooner!)

See, lots of people are sensitive to lactose—a sugar present in milk, and thus, anything made of milk—and many don't even know it. In fact, I saw a doctor a few months after Whole30 to see if I was intolerant or just highly sensitive. Come to find out, as I expected, I'm intolerant.

Since that day, I haven't tasted dairy, apart from very minor treats that I often regret. These days, I avoid desserts that are made with butter or milk. As for my morning coffee? I'm very thankful for coconut or almond milk options to pair with my get-me-going brews. (Think beyond the cow! We've got 13 Types of Milk That Do Your Body Good.)

It hasn't been easy to give up dairy, but the changes in my body (I've lost 25 pounds!), my energy levels, and my overall life have been incredible. In fact, there are four big ways a dairy-free life has made me healthier.

I never nloat. A bold but accurate statement. A year ago, I could barely wear jeans. Over the course of the day, my stomach would expand so much from everything I ate. Nowadays? My tummy stays pretty damn flat all day long—even after eating lunch mid-day. While I used to grab a half-sandwich and soup, now I make sure my lunch has three healthy components: lean meat, veggies, and fruit. Thanks to this shifts, I'm now a size 4 (a year ago, I was a size 10) and I wear jeans on the regular. (Try these 8 Ways to Beat Belly Bloat.)

I kissed PMS goodbye. Awful period symptoms before my cycle started used to be something that happened on the reg. My breasts would also swell up due to the ridiculous amount of estrogen in most milk and cheese products (who knew?!). But while it might seem insane to think that giving up my beloved Brie could make such a difference in my lady parts, these days I rarely have PMS. In fact, though I've never missed a period, I'm often surprised when it comes because everything stays just the same.

I look forward to the gym. By the time 6:30 p.m. rolled around last year, I would find myself feeling achy, bloated, and—well—gassy. It was pretty gross, and I'd often find excuses for why I didn't want to exercise. Even if I did make it to the gym, I wouldn't give 100 percent and I hated how I looked in most workout gear. After I got rid of milk and cheese products? I also got rid of that feeling I used to have at the end of the day. Now I work out five to days a week—and I actually look forward to it. I fell in love with boxing, bootcamp-style and high intensity interval training classes, and I've mastered the yoga headstand. My strength is up and so is my confidence: I make it out on more dates, I'm always up for a 5K with friends, I don't need my knees to do push-ups anymore, and I love the way I feel drenched in sweat.

My acne is gone. I've always had acne-prone skin, and though I went on Accutane a few years ago, I'd still suffer occasional breakouts. I never really thought much of it, until I cut out milk, cheese, and butter completely, and noticed I'd get a breakout once a month—if that. (Adult Acne Is Popping Up Everywhere, BTW.) By letting go of my cheese-and-meat-and-crackers snack and trips to the frozen yogurt shop, I've been able to wear less makeup, and I've even noticed my blue eyes to be even brighter.

I'm Happier
One of the best realizations that has come from my diet changes has been how great I feel when I put the right things into my body—and how terrible I feel when I don't. While we all splurge from now and then (we're human, it's allowed!), I don't crave unhealthy food as often as I did before. And though there are things I miss—hot fudge sundaes and steak and cheese quesadillas, ahh—I love how I feel without them more.

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